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Little House in the City

January 25th, 2015

Tucked away in a remote corner of downtown Rochester, facing the back side of the Geva Theatre and surrounded on all sides by parking lots, stands this unassuming brick house. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
By Mike Governale

Tucked away in a remote corner external link of downtown, facing the back side of the Geva Theatre and surrounded on all sides by parking lots, stands this unassuming brick house. In downtown Rochester there are several lonely buildings like this one, still hanging on long after its neighbors have all been read their last rites.

I admire old little structures like this. Maybe it doesn’t have a glamourous story to tell. But it’s stuck it out for the last 150+ years – from Rochester’s boom, all the way through the toughest times this rusty city could throw at it. Whenever I’ve visited Geva Theatre I’ve taken notice of this one and wondered if it would find new life…

A developer has asked the City to allow him to demolish this one holdout to make room for a few more parking spaces. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
But in this town it seems there’s no winning. No point at which a place like this is safe from the encroaching asphalt tide. A developer has asked the City to allow him to demolish this one holdout. He wants to clear it to make room for a few more parking spaces for his nearby properties, including these new Geva lofts external link.

This building is not protected by any historic registry—and probably not even eligible for listing. It's had an ugly addition mashed onto the front, and it's missing much of its interior, its windows, and trim.
Rochesterians have fought the wrecking ball several times in recent years – mostly in vain. I suspect there’ll be no fight this time though. No petitions, no headlines, no big debates at City Hall.

This building is not protected by any historic registry—and probably not even eligible for listing. It’s had an ugly addition mashed onto the front, and it’s missing much of its interior, its windows, and trim.

Of course none of these things mean this house couldn't be spared, cleaned up, and restored to some degree. Being the last remaining house like it in downtown's Washington Square Park Neighborhood should be worth something. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
What’s more, the developer, Patrick Dutton, has worked to rehabilitate many older buildings in Rochester; including 1 Capron external link and most recently the former RIT Bevier Building external link. I was unable to reach Patrick this weekend for comment. But certainly anyone with his track record has earned the benefit of the doubt from the local preservationist community – myself included.

Of course none of these things mean this house couldn’t be spared, cleaned up, and restored to some degree. Being the last remaining house like it in downtown’s Washington Square Park Neighborhood should be worth something, I would think.

I could see the grounds being landscaped and turned into a corner pocket park. The house could even be converted into something like a sandwich & ice cream shop with some outdoor seating. [PHOTO: 123exp-education.com]
I could see the grounds being landscaped and turned into a corner pocket park. The house could even be converted into something like a sandwich & ice cream shop with some outdoor seating for the new loft residents and theater-goers.

Unfortunately its days are numbered. But for now it stands here, inviting me to think about what this neighborhood was once like - and what downtown could be again.
Alas, winter’s grip tightens over this place and its days are numbered. But for now it stands here, inviting me to think about what this neighborhood external link was once like – and what downtown could be again. For that I thank you, little house.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 25th, 2015 at 10:36 pm and is filed under Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Little House in the City”

  1. wings-of-progress says:

    Agreed. Thank you for pointing this out. This is a very unfortunate decision that has been made here. It is the oldest remnant of the neighborhood, and although not what would be considered an “architectural gem”, it is certainly a valuable marker of time. Perhaps the developer (who I believe is from out-of-town) should consider the old developer adage “highest and best use”? Are a few (and I mean a few, we are talking about a very very small building footprint) surface parking spaces more valuable than this structure with potential re-use as a small cafe or restaurant to serve the neighborhood? Some may say yes. I don’t believe so. I feel that in development one needs to be pragmatic, and often there is collateral damage in the wake of the big picture. In this case however, the benefit of demolition over preservation seems to be nothing.

  2. I am of two minds about this sort of thing. I don’t believe this building is any real kind of loss (I think even I proposed to tear it down when I wrote about this area), but I think it’s sad that it’s always more parking. Across Clinton, a few hundred feet away, is a garage attached to a garage attached to a surface parking lot (ignoring the huge lot already on this side of the street). It’s time to use our existing parking assets more efficiently. ALSO, this is a superb spot for some liner buildings (retail (+possible residential). Not unlike what has become common in this part of Boulder – https://www.google.com/maps/place/2790+Pearl+St,+Boulder,+CO+80302/@40.0255914,-105.2591728,494a,20y,180h,41.25t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x876bedd65d27161b:0x169d019bb922b41

  3. Christopher Brandt says:

    I could care less if Dutton has “proven himself” to be worth the benefit of the doubt. While he has renovated a handful of buildings he has yet to show any true sensitivity to historic building fabric. If the day comes that he repairs rather than replaces windows, and rebuilds the collapsed roof parapet on the Bevier Building then I would be willing to say he has achieved the possibility of the benefit of the doubt.

    And even if he were to have proven himself, there is no excuse to demolish a perfectly savable historic building. Show you actually care about preservation and conservation of materials and revitalize a building that is “too far gone” like the Landmark Society has done several times before, instead of just making another parking lot.

    Disgusting.

  4. Martin Edic says:

    I walk by the building nearly everyday. The former owner resisted many attempts by others to buy and restore it and, as a result it is in very rough shape. It may not even have structural integrity. Patrick has an out of town partner but he lives right across the street.
    My feeling about this is that once the population density increases around there, this may become a viable lot for new retail storefronts. Right now it’s pretty sparse. And the Woodbury Commons development has a lot of retail space including a beautiful corner space where they’d like to see a high-end coffee cafe. In a few months there will be 20-25 new occupied apartments in that block requiring parking spots. All are already leased (even before completion!). This will change the dynamic around there, especially at night. There is also the empty former Nikko space in One Capron, the empty bar next door and the former trophy store, so there is no lack of available retail in the area. Right now it is a tough spot for potential merchants.

  5. wings-of-progress says:

    Martin:

    I agree with you regarding the previous owner. But unfortunately, once a property goes to parking (especially in Rochester), the likelihood of it going back to a building is very low. One thing that is great about Rochester is that we do have many remaining architecture artifacts left downtown (in many high development cities these types of buildings were demolished years ago). This building is an asset unique to this neighborhood. Maybe a second consideration should be made to save it. What is the risk? A couple of parking spaces?

  6. Matt, like you, I might be more open to demolition IF something better were going to be built in its place. Those liner buildings you point to in Boulder would be good to fill in the parking lots, but I wouldn’t exactly want to those to replace an older building like this house.

    By themselves those buildings look incredibly bland and suburban (and I’m ignoring the fact that they’re single-story). I think part of what makes for a great urban neighborhood is having an eclectic mix of building types and architectural styles juxtaposed.

    Now, if I go about a mile west of your pin, to the Pearl St Mall, I see some better examples there.

  7. Gary says:

    Every time I walk through this area, I look at that building and fantasize about how delightful it is to have those few relics of historic downtown homes still remaining. I have often thought it would make a fine restaurant or coffeehouse. While I support the highest and best use principle and think some types of development would justify demolition, this would only be one more parking lot. We have far too many parking lots. The aerial photo shows it already swimming in a sea of asphalt. Must we have more?

  8. Martin Edic says:

    The building in that neighborhood that fascinates me is the Trophy Store on South Ave Extension next to Capron. Like the building we’re discussing it seems to missed the second half of the last 100 years. Frozen in time. I have heard that it was sold but that there are title problems.
    If you’re ever walking over there take a good look at the display windows in front while they are still there. The trophies have been falling apart for years, even when they were open, a pure demonstration of entropy! My friend Lucia, who lives in Capron, has been documenting them in photos. One day we will walk by and see they are gone like the Wolk building.

  9. Christopher Brandt says:

    Just for discussion’s sake. The following are several buildings that were vacant, empty shells much like this little house. Some of them had large unsightly additions, gaping holes in their roofs, structural deficiencies, and more. Today they remain contributing buildings to each of their neighborhoods with retail, offices, and residential uses.

    The Haag House and Main & Scio Food Market:
    https://goo.gl/maps/x4hnA

    The Hoyt Potter House (Landmark Society HQ):
    https://goo.gl/maps/wYngP

    15 Atkinson Street:
    https://goo.gl/maps/mDHW8

    The Old Stone Warehouse (suffered from a catastrophic fire and did not have a roof):
    https://goo.gl/maps/rEwhx

    275 S. Plymouth Street:
    Freshly restored -http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/photolab/contemporary/c0001/c0001194.jpg
    Now – https://goo.gl/maps/HQJFM

    The Gorsline Building
    As shell falling into the gorge – http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/photolab/contemporary/c0000/c0000443.jpg
    Now – https://goo.gl/maps/L5CbE

    These are just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head, there are surely countless others.

  10. Jason says:

    Great article Mike, thanks for your sentiments about our neighborhood. Wahl’s is a unique structure in our nabe with its days numbered. I saw RG&E in the building this past fall, and, I imagine, they were doing their final preps for the oncoming demolition.

    That city block is tough because a good portion of it is owned by Excellus, and they have a huge need for parking. I do believe that a Center City Master Plan, or another plan done by RRCDC a while back (with the great input of Plan Architects, who are also in the nabe) developed some plans for that parcel, including a high-rise “Theatre Lofts” building. It was a great idea, and something that I believe, we need more of in the city. If only we could get developers to dig underground for their parking…

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Hey Christopher – 15 Atkinson is a hot mess. I almost bought it, but there’s an ongoing lawsuit regarding easements for none other than parking. The building could be so much more than 5 under-performing rental apartments, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, lend is infinitely cheaper in Rochester than the outrageous cost of underground parking. What would be more interesting is if Rochesterians were willing to walk more than 10 ft for a parking spot. There are 26,000 inside the inner loop and only 17,000 are used on a given workday. I don’t think supply is the problem, but attitude. Sorry team.

  12. Matt,

    That is unfortunate to hear. However, the fact that it is still standing is testament to the vision and dedication of developers who saw a higher use. In the mid-eighties 15 Atkinson was vacant, boarded up, had suffered from a fire and had holes in the roof.

    We really really just need to stop it with the demolition of buildings for parking lots, its not sustainable economically, ecologically, and culturally. I’m not suggesting a misguided call to fight to freeze things in time, but instead an acknowledgment of the energy, history, and sense of place embodied in these structures and the irreplaceable nature of these things. 21st century Rochester should realize the necessity to adapt and not destroy our historic built fabric. It is always disheartening for me to continue seeing the misguided, and outdated, notion of consuming our way to brighter, newer, future with little regard to the irreparable damage left in our wake.

  13. It’s true, everyone always tells me how badly Corn Hill needs parking. Which is hilarious, since everyone also complains about how fast people drive in Corn Hill since no one is using the street parking. It’s infinitely simple to get a parking permit for the neighborhood, and last I checked, it didn’t even cost anything. Sigh.

  14. Eric says:

    I say tear the eyesore down.

  15. Gary says:

    A couple years ago, the Landmark Society changed its motto to “It’s About NOW!” which underscores the value of preservation.

    It amazes me how few people see the ecological value of these historic properties. Most of them, even this small house, were built at substantial cost and with materials of quality no longer easily available. Labor was cheap but labor for even very low-quality replacement (often the preferred option) is expensive. The energy consumed in their construction predated the rise of fossil fuels and climate change, meaning essentially that their carbon footprint of construction has been paid off! So this old infrastructure represents a substantial investment in resources of many types. When they are destroyed, ALL of that investment is thrown away. How’s that for a legacy? In fact the dollar cost and energy consumption of demolition alone may even exceed that of their 19th century construction.

    I often wonder what their builders, our civic fathers, would think of such waste of their time and vision. We’re not just tearing down old buildings, we’re also wasting large and irreplaceable investments of time, money and energy in our city.

  16. kmannkoopa says:

    How old does a building have to be before it no longer can be demolished? Where was the outcry for River Park Commons or the office complex formerly on the Collegetown Site? Or why is no one fighting to save the Cornell Corporative Extension Building in Highland Park that will be torn down this summer?

    Cities evolve and grow, and not all buildings are worth saving. Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is good.

    As an avid reader and follower of this site, it pains me to see how often we throw out the baby with the bath water. Main Street west of the inner loop is not a nice place. Someone proposes building a store and we have to protect a vacant and collapsing church. A company wants to actually rehabilitate an old industrial building and make it a pleasant place to have a drink and view the falls, but we try to stop them doing it because they are tearing down an equally old building to do it.

    Sorry to rant about this. I am not a fan of more parking downtown anymore than anyone else, but the premise that a building is worth saving simply because it is old is not a good argument if we want a vibrant growing urban center.

    Incidentally, what is going to happen to the Carnegie building after the fire this morning? It may have to come down, and that will be a bigger loss to the city than this building will.

  17. MAT says:

    Matt, it costs $24/year for a Corn Hill residential parking permit. Well worth it.

    Completely agree with the sentiment that, although the building in and of itself is not terribly important, its demolition for a parking lot is yet another step backward for our city. We should only be approving demolition of any building when it will result in a higher and better use for the site. Surface parking is almost never a higher and better use.

    There should be a moratorium on new surface parking lot construction in the Center City. Rather than provide more parking for these Geva actors, how about Geva and/or Dutton work out a deal to place a Zipcar in the neighborhood?

  18. MAT – Which shouldn’t be so hard considering they are already at UofR. Also, $24 isn’t bad at all. If $2 a month is the threshold for people complaining about parking, it’s a sad sad situation we’re in.

  19. Gary says:

    Interesting photos, exactly as expected from older commercial use that has been neglected. When I was younger, I worked in many similar buildings. One thing that confuses me is that another Rochesteriat article, “signs of life,” describes it as having been built during the Great Depression. Curious because I could swear it would have been built an entire century earlier, judging by the Federal or Greek Revival styling.

  20. Jason says:

    Gary,

    The info of 35 St. Mary’s Place comes from http://maps.cityofrochester.gov/propinfo/. It says the current structure standing was built in 1930, so, while impressive to our neighborhood’s past, I am not sure if it is as old as people think.

  21. Christopher Brandt says:

    Jason,

    That property info is likely referring to the addition on the front of the house. All it takes is a short look at the plat maps to confirm the house was indeed standing before 1930. Its style is Greek Revival so it was likely built between 1830-1850.

  22. wings-of-progress says:

    Christopher is correct.

  23. Yes. Jason, the year built dates in the City’s Property Info database are often incorrect I’ve found. This building is definitely older than 1930.

  24. Jason says:

    Ha! Who can doubt the followers of RocSubway!!! You guys should be the ones running the database for the city!!! Thanks for the info.

  25. Kathryn Hill says:

    Distressing to find out in today’s D&C (Oct. 5)that the building was torn down last Friday, October 2nd. How ironic, since it was listed on the Landmark Society’s tour held on this past Friday and Saturday. Strange timing! Should I have asked for 1/11th of my tour ticket as a refund? Funny to walk the area with my tour brochure only to find a pile of rubble. Goodbye, little building; I enjoyed the mystery of what it was and often used the parking lot on the side for free when I went to Geva.


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